Alberta Premier-designate Alison Redford is vowing to bring her former Tory leadership rivals together following her come-from-behind win on Sunday, saying the fierce contest for the leadership is "exactly what a party should do."

Redford became Alberta's first female premier-designate early Sunday after coming from behind to take the reins of the province's Progressive Conservative party.

Redford will replace Ed Stelmach, who announced in January he would resign as party leader and premier. 

The premier-designate said one of her first changes will be to give backbenchers more of a say in decision-making, while she added she would be speaking to her main former rival Gary Mar later Sunday about a "leading role" in her cabinet.

"We are all Progressive Conservatives," she said in Edmonton. "What happened was exactly what a party should do. We should build a debate, we should be exploring our future, then after the leadership campaign, we should come together."

'Nothing but positive feedback'

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Gary Mar was widely seen as the front runner in the race. (CBC)

Redford, who started the leadership campaign with little caucus support, said she is nevertheless committed to working "openly" with caucus members.

"I anticipate being able to speak with most of my caucus within the next two days," she said.

"It's interesting for me ... that when I first started running I had one caucus member endorsing me. That has slowly grown. The discussions I've had so far are very heartwarming," she said.

"I've had nothing but positive feedback from the fellow candidates that ran with me and I expect that we'll be able to work together as a very strong team."

Redford credited her success to talking about issues that are important to Albertans, listening to the public about the issues that were important to them and engaging Albertans in politics.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement congratulating Redford on her win.

"I look forward to working with Premier-Designate Redford on issues that matter to Albertans and all Canadians, including the challenges posed by the current global economic climate," the statement said.

"I would also like to thank outgoing Premier Ed Stelmach for his leadership and his dedication to the people of Alberta."

Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith said Redford's victory is good news, and having Redford as the Progressive Conservative leader means an opportunity for growth for Wildrose.

"We have no problem being the only small-'c' Conservative voice on the political landscape in the province and I think people are excited, actually," Smith said.

"I think they're excited to see two strong female leaders going head to head talking about the vision for Alberta."

Smith said she is surprised and disappointed that despite promising democratic reforms, Redford has already decided there won't be a fall sitting of the legislature and there may not be a spring election.

Redford, the Calgary Elbow MLA and former Alberta justice minister, was a close second to Mar throughout the evening as the second ballot votes rolled in from 85 polling stations across the province.

But votes from Doug Horner supporters who made Redford their second choice on the ballot put her over the top, beating Mar by just 1,613 votes.  Redford received 37,104 votes or 51.1 per cent of the votes, compared to 35,491 for Mar.

The result was a come-from-behind victory for Redford who placed a distant second to Mar on the Sept. 17 first ballot, winning 19 per cent of support, compared to 41 per cent for Mar.

'I respect their decision'

Mar, a former cabinet minister under Ralph Klein who resigned his position as Alberta's envoy in Washington D.C. to run for party leader, conceded the race to Redford in a short speech at the Expo Centre.

"I said all along that I would listen and tonight the people of Alberta have made their wishes known and I respect their decision," Mar told.

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Premier Ed Stelmach is flanked by Redford and his wife Marie on the stage at the Expo Centre early Sunday. (CBC)

Stelmach addressed the crowd before the party announced the results.

"I know that I am leaving this province in very good hands. We have a very good team and a strong group of Progressive Conservative supporters," he said. "And I say 'progressive' conservative supporters, that's very important."

"To all of you, a profound thank you from both [wife] Marie and I, and all the very best," he said.

'Change' the theme of Redford's campaign

Redford is relatively new to the Alberta political scene. She was first elected the MLA for Calgary-Elbow in March 2008 and was immediately appointed justice minister and attorney general.

Redford, a married mother of a nine-year-old daughter, is a lawyer by profession and a life-long conservative who was voted the president of the Alberta Young Conservatives as a high school student in Calgary.

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Redford with her husband Glen Jermyn and daughter Sarah on a trip to India in December 2010. (Courtesy Redford campaign)

After graduating from law school at the University of Saskatchewan in 1988, Redford worked in the Prime Minister's Office and for Joe Clark while he was the Secretary of State for External Affairs.

She later worked in South Africa, Vietnam, Bosnia and served as one of four international observers appointed by the United Nations to observe Afghanistan's first parliamentary elections in 2005.

She resigned from cabinet in February after joining the race to replace Ed Stelmach as party leader and premier.

During her campaign, she frequently took positions that were contrary to party policy. In a recent interview with CBC News, Redford said that she didn't receive a single endorsement from any of her former cabinet colleagues when she decided to run.

Former rivals Ted Morton, Doug Griffiths and Rick Orman threw their support behind Mar after failing to gain enough support on the first ballot.

Over the last two weeks, her campaign — which was headed by Stephen Carter, the same political strategist behind Naheed Nenshi's election as Calgary mayor — continued to insist that Redford was gaining momentum.

She suffered a personal setback on Tuesday when her mother, Helen Redford, died suddenly in hospital.

However, Redford participated in a televised debate with Mar and Horner the next night, a decision that won her much praise, both for her performance and her resilience in the face of personal adversity.

Redford spoke about her mother during her speech early Sunday.

"I'm proud of my mom. She got me involved in politics 30 years ago," Redford said. "She's a big part of the reason I'm here and I'm thinking about her tonight."

It isn't known when Redford will be sworn in as premier, though she suggested that it would be sooner rather than later, as she plans to travel to Washington D.C. later this week for congressional hearings about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Redford has said she supports the project, which would take crude from the Alberta oilsands to refineries on the Gulf Coast of the United States.